Seagate's GoFlex Satellite portable hard drive streams content over WiFi (review)

Seagate just took the wraps off what's likely the niftiest portable HDD to cross our path in a long, long while. The GoFlex Satellite is part storage device, part wireless media streamer, and it manages to wear both hats with little compromise on either end. For all intents and purposes, this is a standard 500GB GoFlex HDD with a bit of extra girth, an AC input, an 802.11b/g/n WiFi module and a built-in web server. The reason for those extras? A simple depression of the on / off button starts the streamer up, and it's ready for a connection in around 30 to 40 seconds. Once fired up you can stream data to just about anything -- even iOS devices. That's an impressive feat, not quite a "first" moment as Seagate would like you to believe (we'll give that crown to AirStash), but still a rarity.

Our unit shipped with a GoFlex USB 3.0 adapter and a car charger, with the latter enabling users to entertain their children on long road trips -- a nice addition, we have to say. Installation is a cinch; just fire up a media sync application that resides on the drive (for OS X users, anyway), and you're ready to drag and drop files as if it's any 'ole HDD. No media management software or anything of the sort, thankfully. The purpose of having your media onboard is to stream videos, photos, documents and music to your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, or any other tablet, phone or laptop with WiFi. You heard right -- while there's only a dedicated app for the iOS family, any WiFi-enabled device with a web browser can tap into this. Care to hear our take on this $200 do-it-all hard drive? Have a look at our review video just after the break.
The drive itself -- while patently gigantic compared to the GoFlex Slim -- is still highly portable, and it's way easier to lug around than any other media streamer we've seen. It's also just $199.99, which tends to be the going rate for higher-end streamers with half a terabyte of storage baked in. Only this one, of course, packs a built-in battery and could easily slide into your front rear pocket. We were immediately struck by just how easy file transfer were -- we anticipated having to deal with yet another piece of kludgy software in order to get our tunes and videos over to the HDD, but it truly acts like a standard hard drive. Just drag files over and organize however you want, and the app / web server sorts it accordingly.

The iOS app (there's an iPad version and a separate iPhone / iPod touch version) is relatively spartan, but certainly gets the job done. There's a handful of categories and view options, but the Folder View seemed to be the most sophisticated. That's the only one that actually gave us a view to our music in actual folders, so you'll likely end up spending the most of your sorting time there. We're thrilled to report that the app is both quick and accurate, and during our testing we had no issues getting it to pull content; better still, it'll stream to three different devices at once. Unfortunately, the Photos pane doesn't support scrolling through images, but we're hoping that Seagate throws that in on a future build.

Naturally, things work best on an iOS device, but any tablet / handheld / computer with a WiFi module and a web browser can theoretically take advantage. We connected through the mobile Safari browser as well as the browser on our Nexus One (Android 2.3), and while the former gave nearly the same experience as the app (albeit with slightly longer loading times), the latter had one particular pain point. Viewing photos and listening to music on Android's browser was a cinch, but viewing videos... no so much. Our phone kept trying to download entire videos rather than streaming them, so we'd caution non-iOS users to expect some limitations if you buy in.

Is the GoFlex Satellite worth its weight in gold? Depends. If you're an avid iOS user, you need some extra storage space anyway, and you'd rather house all of your media on a 500GB external drive than on the device itself, Seagate's latest concoction is a total must-have. It works well, and the built-in battery is capable of streaming for four to five hours on a charge. It's hardly the most robust media streamer on the market, but it's also one-of-a-kind. For those who tend to roll with other operating systems, we'd probably hold out until the company (hopefully!) adds dedicated Android / Windows Phone 7 / etc. apps -- and who knows, by that time you may be getting a 1TB model for the same scratch.


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